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Yankees 2022 Season Preview: Jonathan Loáisiga

Jonathan Loáisiga’s emergence as a dominant bullpen arm was one of the best stories of 2021. Can he repeat his performance again in 2022?

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Loáisiga always had the arm. Even when he was pitching ineffectively to start his career, you could see why the organization was so bullish on his development. The only issue was that he simply could not stay on the field. The San Francisco Giants released him after missing 2014 and 2015 to injuries, and he pitched in just one game before having Tommy John surgery in 2016. In 2019, a shoulder injury in May limited him to just 31.2 total innings. In the shortened 2020 season, Loáisiga was able to manage just 23 innings as a bullpen arm and spot starter.

Thankfully for us fans, the Yankees stuck with him. In 2021, Loáisiga broke out in a massive way as the team’s best reliever. Aside from three uncharacteristic implosions — one in May against the Nationals, one in June against the Royals, and one in July against the Red Sox — Loáisiga was virtually unhittable as he was deployed in a firefighter-like role. Though another shoulder injury threatened his season late in the year, he was, thankfully, able to return before the end of the year and finish off what was truly a remarkable season.

2021 Stats: 70.2 IP, 2.17 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 1.02 WHIP, 8.79 K/9, 24.4 percent K%, 2.04 BB/9, 5.7 percent BB%, 0.38 HR/9, 2.4 fWAR

2022 ZiPS Projections: 66.7 IP, 3.24 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 1.16 WHIP, 9.99 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, 0.81 HR/9, 1.4 fWAR

Baseball Savant

I know I always make a big deal about Statcast’s percentile rankings in my write-ups, but this graphic might be my favorite of all-time. Last year, Loáisiga was quite literally the best of the best when it came to average exit velocity, hard hit percentage, xwOBA, xERA, xSLG, chase rate, and fastball velocity. When I say that Loáisiga’s 2021 campaign was a good one, I might actually be selling him short.

How did Loáisiga do it? The sinker, of course. For the first time in his career, Loáisiga threw his sinker more than half of the time (54.9 percent, to be exact) to great effect. In terms of run value, it comes in at the elite -13. Opponents hit just .252 against his sinker, and the hard hit rate was just 28.2 percent. Beyond just his sinker, though, Loáisiga’s curveball was also excellent. Good for a RV of -7, opponents hit a measly .098 (and slugged just .098!) against it while whiffing literally half of the time. When they did make contact with the bender, it was hit hard only 12.5 percent of the time.

Thanks to his absurdly good sinker — I mean, seriously, a sinker that averages 98.3 MPH is basically a human cheat code — Loáisiga induced a groundball in a whopping 61.5 percent of at-bats. For the sake of comparison, the MLB average was 45.1 percent last year. Opponents also hit line drives just 15.9 percent of the time (MLB average: 25.2 percent). The highlight compilation below should serve as a reminder of just how filthy his stuff is:

Paul O’Neill says it best at the :23 mark — his stuff is just flat unhittable.

Of course, Loáisiga’s 2022 season is not without some question marks. As we’ve seen in the past, bullpen arms can be hit-or-miss from season-to-season, and it’s always a risky proposition to just assume that relievers will as effective (or even nearly as effective) from one season to the next. Relief pitching is probably the most volatile position in the sport, so just by virtue of being a reliever, it’s no sure thing that Loáisiga will have a repeat campaign this year.

Furthermore, a lot of the stats that jump off the page — his groundball rate, for one — beg the question of whether or not that type of success is sustainable. Even with that incredible leap in groundball percentage, his career mark still sits at 54.3 percent (it would be roughly 48 percent without). While that is, of course, still an excellent rate, can we expect another 60 percent groundball rate from Loáisiga next year?

And, of course, there is the ever-scary question of whether or not he will be able to stay on the field. Shoulder injuries can be devastating for pitchers, especially ones with such a long injury history, and Loáisiga is coming off a season where he shattered his previous high in innings pitched. It’ll be intriguing to see what kind of wear-and-tear, if any, last season’s high usage had on his arm.

If I were a betting man, though, I would feel safe putting my money on Loáisiga to put up another massive season for the Yankees bullpen. His raw stuff is simply too good to gloss over, and it seems as though he really learned how to pitch last season.

Beyond just his stuff, though, Loáisiga might be one of the primary beneficiaries of the Yankees’ offseason moves thus far. As someone who has an uncanny ability to keep the ball on the ground, the defensive upgrades behind him at shortstop and third base in the form of Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, as well as the return of Anthony Rizzo at first (despite being in decline on the defensive side, he’s still an upgrade over Luke Voit) and the roving presence of DJ LeMahieu across the infield will certainly help shore up the holes behind him. And, as I detailed in my review of the trade with the Minnesota Twins, Ben Rortvedt’s framing prowess might steal him a few more strikes.